Four years after she graduated, her sister and cousins are among the current senior class about to lead Woodland in its third trip to the state semifinals in four years. The Bobcats (32-1) stand two victories away from their second state title in as many years.
So, Courtney Strain has seen a lot of Woodland girls’ basketball teams. How does the current team, set to play Montgomery Academy (24-5) in today’s 6 p.m. girls’ Class 2A semifinal in the BJCC Arena, rate against the other Woodland teams she has known?
“In my opinion, there’s no comparison to any team in the past,” she said. “This is by far the best team that Woodland’s ever had, and, my personal opinion?
“I don’t think there’ll be another girls’ team as good as Woodland is this year at Woodland or in this area for a very long time.”
It’s hard to argue.
The Bobcats once again are led by Leah Strain, a finalist for girls’ 2A player of the year in 2013 and likely to be again. She’s averaging 22.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 4.9 steals a game and just scored 72 points in two Northeast Regional games, including 43 in the championship game an 84-68 rout of Lanett.
Three other starters return from last year’s state-title team — twin guards Shanna and Shalyn Strain (Leah’s and Courtney’s cousins) and guard/forward Jaide Walker.
Shanna and Shalyn Strain average a combined 20 points a game and give Woodland opposing 3-point shooting threats, as well as speed in transition.
Walker, whose 16 points were a key in the state final against Prattville Christian a year ago, adds 12.7 a game this season. She can hit a 3-pointer and score in the lane.
Gone from a year ago is then-senior guard Amy Strain, another cousin and a key leader, but Woodland replaced her with a true post player.
Sophomore Adre Bowen averages 10.5 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Courtney Strain measures the difference Bowen makes in “tons.”
“It takes a lot of pressure off of Leah and the guards,” she said. “Leah used to average nine, 10 rebounds a game, but having Adre has taken a lot of pressure off of Leah to go get the rebound herself.”
The Bobcats are built to beat opponents multiple ways. They would seem to be stronger even than the team that won the first AHSAA champion’s trophy in school history a year ago.
“As a total five starters, I think they’re stronger, from the one to the five,” Courtney Strain said. “They have another year of experience. They’re seniors. They’ve been playing together forever. I think they’re better.”
There’s always the caution, though. How does the competition compare to the teams Woodland faced in Birmingham a year ago, and how do they match up?
Larry Strain has scouted Montgomery Academy twice and sees an important potential matchup issue.
“Of their 10 players that they have, they almost have identical twins for every position,” he said. “They’ve got a lot deeper bench than what we have, so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Still, Woodland goes to Birmingham with the confidence of a returning champion, bringing an even better team.
“I think so, just because we’ve all been playing together, and we’re so well-rounded,” Leah Strain said. “We’ve been there before and just know what to expect with the TV timeouts and everything. I think we’ve got a good chance if we play like we’re supposed to.”
Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, @jmedley_star.